Misunderstandings can quickly arise during a telephone conversation, either because the connection was poor or because the conversation partners do not share the same understanding.
You could find yourself in this situation whether you’re making a personal or business call. It is then essential to politely let the other person know that you have just not understood them.
Let them know as soon as possible what part you did not understand, but also what your previous understanding is. If possible, ask specific questions; so your counterpart doesn’t have to repeat unnecessary things.
Don’t Hesitate to Ask
People sometimes feel uncomfortable about asking someone to repeat what they said. This is because it interrupts the flow of conversation. There are other reasons as well.
Despite that, if you’re not understanding what the other person is saying, it’s important to let them know. Their next statement may be based on the previous one.
If they assume that you understand what they’ve said and you don’t, it could result in additional confusion.
Clear up any areas that need it early. This helps to prevent misunderstandings on both sides. Try to keep communication as clear as possible between both parties.
Repeat What You Heard Them Say
Repeating what you think you heard them say allows them to correct you. This is one of the simplest ways to know if you heard them correctly.
For example, you could say:
“I’m going to repeat what you just said. Just to be sure but I heard you correctly.”
“I’m going to repeat what you said. If I say anything that you didn’t say, please correct me.”
“Did you just say that the house is on top of the barn? That’s what it sounded like to me. What did you really say?”
“Your name is Mrs. Brown; did I understand that correctly?”
This technique works very well whenever you’re discussing facts.
For example, if a person gives you their telephone number, it’s a good idea to repeat it if you’re not sure that you heard the correct thing. Even if you think you heard them correctly still repeat it and allow them to make any corrections.
The same applies to conversations about business details. If something has to be shipped to them, repeat the delivery date or the address that’s given. If they’re requesting a specific quantity of goods, repeat the number of goods that they ask for.
Ask Specific Questions
You can ask specific questions about what you didn’t understand.
Quickly zone in on the area that you need more clarity on. This prevents the other person from going into unnecessary details.
For example, suppose you’re having a discussion about the type of eggs that the person wants you to purchase at the supermarket. If you don’t understand what they’re saying and you don’t ask for clarification, you might end up bringing home the wrong eggs and this could create a sour mood for the entire evening.
If you’re not sure what size eggs they need, ask. Don’t make assumptions and don’t pretend that you understand exactly what they need. Similarly, if they seem to be asking for organic eggs, ask questions that give you more information and clear up any misunderstandings that you may have.
You could ask:
“Do you prefer organic eggs or will many eggs do?”
“Is there a particular brand of eggs that you like?”
“I hear you saying that you don’t like regular eggs. Am I right? What size eggs do you need and where can I find those?”
People Don’t Think Alike
Despite what many people would like to believe, we don’t all think alike. A person may say on the phone that they like bananas and the individual who is listening to them might immediately think of a ripe banana. However, the person on the other end may be thinking of green bananas. Even the size and shape of the banana that each person is thinking about can be different.
Asking questions during any conversation helps both people to have the same visual picture. This prevents either of them from making assumptions. They are not looking at a photo. You both have to rely on words to communicate what you’re feeling and thinking.
Ask questions that help you to have the same mental picture of whatever you’re discussing. These questions can be related to specifics or measurable criteria, including time date, and even location.
For example, you could ask:
“Where did you say the party will be held?”
“What did you say would be the focus of that meeting?”
“How would you like the shoes sent to you?”
“When did you say you would be available to meet me?”
“What did you want to know about the registration process?”
“Where were you when she gave the item to you?”
“How many boxes were on the shelf at that time?”
Ask Them to Go Over What They Said
Sometimes, simply asking a person to repeat a sentence can help you to gain clarity. At other times by asking a question or two you can understand what they’re saying more clearly. However, there are times when you just need them to go over everything that they’re saying.
In this case, a request to have them repeat the important facts will help to ease communication. Let them know that you want them to generally go over everything that they’ve said.
Use Humor and Courtesy
A little humor can go a far way. Courtesy can also ease your discomfort if you feel that they may be annoyed when you ask them to repeat what they’ve said.
You can make the conversation more pleasant by adding mild humor based on the situation.
For example, if you’re unable to hear them clearly because of background noise you could make a quick joke about that. If your network is known to be problematic, you could blame the misunderstanding on that and just ask them to repeat what they had said.
You could say:
“I’m right next to a line of traffic and everyone is in a rush to get where they’re going. Why can’t these people let go of their horns? Could you repeat what you just said?”
“Please repeat what you said earlier. I was distracted by the crowd.”
“Making phone calls on the bus is a real challenge, could you repeat that last sentence again?”
“The network seems to be giving problems again. I could barely hear you a while ago. Please repeat what you said.”
Katie Haynes is a senior author at everyday-courtesy.com with over 15 years of experience in marketing and psychology. As a freelance consultant, she also supports companies and executives in overcoming communication challenges. Katie is a passionate digital nomad working on her first book on the art of communication.